Judges Opinions, — October 12, 2022 13:54 — 0 Comments

Melissa D. Hollinger, Individually and as Executrix of the Estate of Melitta G. Truran, v. The Good Samaritan Hospital of Lebanon, Pennsylvania D/B/A WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, et al.

Melissa D. Hollinger, Individually and as Executrix of the Estate of Melitta G. Truran, v. The Good Samaritan Hospital of Lebanon, Pennsylvania D/B/A WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, et al.

 

Civil Action-Law-Medical Malpractice-Wrongful Death-Negligence-Wound Care-Preliminary Objections-Specificity of Pleadings-Allegations-Agency-Negligence

 

Melissa D. Hollinger (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint alleging that Defendants Suburban Geriatrics, Inc., (“Suburban”) and Robert Pearlstein, D.O., (“Dr. Pearlstein”) provided medical treatment to Melitta G. Truran (“Decedent”) when she was a resident at Stoneridge Retirement Town Center following her discharge from Defendant Good Samaritan Hospital where she had undergone surgery relating to a wound on her left leg.  The Complaint alleges that the wound worsened during the claimant’s residence at Stoneridge Retirement Town Center with Decedent undergoing transfer to the Hershey Medical Center thereafter.  It is alleged that Decedent underwent a below the knee amputation on July 17, 2019 and died on March 22, 2020 with the death certificate identifying sepsis with several underlying conditions as the causes of death.  Suburban and Dr. Pearlstein have filed preliminary objections on the basis that the Complaint lacks specificity necessary to apprise them of the individuals alleged to be their agents and the conduct alleged to have been negligent.

 

  1. Pa.R.C.P. Rule 1019(a) requires that the material facts upon which a cause of action or defense is based must be stated in a concise and summary form.

 

  1. A pleader is not relieved of the duty to plead material facts merely because the defendant purportedly has knowledge of the facts or because that information easily is available to the defendant.

 

  1. When determining whether the averments of a complaint are sufficient, a court must ensure that the challenged averments present no risk of a future unexpected amendment to the complaint based upon new facts after the running of the statute of limitations.

 

  1. A physician charged with negligence is entitled to be advised through the complaint of the specific acts or omissions that constitute the negligence and unskillfulness complained of in order to restrict the plaintiff’s proof at trial and to give the physician enough information reasonably to prepare a defense.

 

  1. When pleading an agency relationship, the complaint must allege facts identifying the agent by name or appropriate description and setting forth the agent’s authority, how the tortious acts fall within the scope of that authority or were ratified by the principal if unauthorized.

 

  1. The allegations of agency and negligence are overly broad and should be stated with greater specificity as to Suburban and Dr. Pearlstein where the Complaint alleges that Decedent also was under the care of other providers when Suburban and Dr. Pearlstein were involved in the care and treatment of her wounds, the Complaint fails to apprise them of the identities of any individuals alleged to be their agents and the Complaint fails to inform them of the exact condition that was not documented, diagnosed or treated properly, how they failed to carry out their duty to treat and how staff referred to as agents were not properly trained or qualified.

 

L.C.C.C.P. No. 2021-00317, Opinion by John C. Tylwalk, President Judge, January 24, 2022.

 

 

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF LEBANON COUNTY

PENNSYLVANIA

 

CIVIL DIVISION

 

MELISSA D. HOLLINGER, individually             :         NO. 2021-00317

And as EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF          :

MELITTA G. TRURAN,                             :

Plaintiff                                   :

:

  1. :

:

THE GOOD SAMARITAN HOSPITAL OF          :

LEBANON, PENNSYLVANIA D/B/A                 :

WELLSPAN GOOD SAMARITAN HOSPITAL;  :

WELLSPAN MEDICAL GROUP;                        :

GOOD SAMARITAN PHYSICIAN SERVICES;  :

STONERIDGE RETIREMENT LIVING d/b/a      :

STONERIDGE TOWNE CENTER; STONERIDGE       :

RETIREMENT COMMUNITIES, INC.;               :

VOHRA POST ACUTE CARE PHYSICIANS OF :

THE NORTHEAST, PA d/b/a VOHRA WOUND :

PHYSICIANS; KYRAN MITCHELL, M.D.;                  :

SUBURBAN GERIATRICS, INC.; A                    :

PROFESSIONAL CORPORATION; and              :

ROBERT PEARLSTEIN, D.O.,                            :

Defendants                              :

 

ORDER OF COURT

 

AND NOW, this 24th day of January, 2022, upon consideration of the Preliminary Objections of Defendants Robert J. Pearlstein, D.O. and Suburban

 

 

Geriatrics, Inc. to Plaintiff’s Complaint, it is hereby Ordered as follows:

  1. The Preliminary Objections to the allegations of agency set forth in Paragraphs 38, 43, 68, 103, and 108 of the Complaint are SUSTAINED.  Plaintiff is granted leave to file an Amended Complaint in accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.
  2. The Preliminary Objections to the allegations of negligence set forth in Paragraph 68(f)(g)(k)(q) and (r) are SUSTAINED.  Plaintiff is granted leave to file an Amended Complaint in accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.

 

BY THE COURT:

 

                                                          __________________________, P.J.

                                                          JOHN C. TYLWALK

 

JCT/jah

 

Cc:  Michael E. Megrey, Esquire/Woomer & Talarico, LLC/2945 Banksville Road,

           Suite 200/Pittsburgh, PA  15216-2749

        Collin T. Keyser, Esquire/Saxton & Stump/280 Granite Run Drive, Suite

            300/Lancaster, PA  17601

        Stephen G. Schroy, Esquire/O’Brien & Ryan, LLP/Hickory Pointe/2250

           Hickory Road, Suite 300/Plymouth Meeting, PA  19462-1047

        Mark P. Merlini, Jr., Esquire/Marks, O’Neill, O’Brien, Doherty & Kelly,

           PC/One Penn Center, Suite 1010/1617 John F. Kennedy

           Blvd./Philadelphia, PA  19103

         Judith Huber, Esquire/Law Clerk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF LEBANON COUNTY

PENNSYLVANIA

 

CIVIL DIVISION

 

MELISSA D. HOLLINGER, individually             :         NO. 2021-00317

And as EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF          :

MELITTA G. TRURAN,                             :

Plaintiff                                   :

:

  1. :

:

THE GOOD SAMARITAN HOSPITAL OF          :

LEBANON, PENNSYLVANIA D/B/A                 :

WELLSPAN GOOD SAMARITAN HOSPITAL;  :

WELLSPAN MEDICAL GROUP;                        :

GOOD SAMARITAN PHYSICIAN SERVICES;  :

STONERIDGE RETIREMENT LIVING d/b/a      :

STONERIDGE TOWNE CENTER; STONERIDGE       :

RETIREMENT COMMUNITIES, INC.;               :

VOHRA POST ACUTE CARE PHYSICIANS OF :

THE NORTHEAST, PA d/b/a VOHRA WOUND :

PHYSICIANS; KYRAN MITCHELL, M.D.;                  :

SUBURBAN GERIATRICS, INC.; A                    :

PROFESSIONAL CORPORATION; and              :

ROBERT PEARLSTEIN, M.D.,                           :

Defendants                              :

 

 

 

APPEARANCES:

 

MICHAEL E. MEGREY, ESQUIRE                 FOR PLAINTIFF

 

 

COLLIN T. KEYSER, ESQUIRE             FOR STONERIDGE RETIREMENT LIVING

SAXTON & STUMP                                 d/b/a STONERIDGE TOWN CENTER,

STONERIDGE RETIREMENT COMMUNITIES, INC.,

THE GOOD SAMARITAN HOSPITAL OF

LEBANON, PENNSYLVANIA, d/b/a

WELLSPAN GOOD SAMARITAN HOSPITAL,

WELLSPAN MEDICAL GROUP,

GOOD SAMARITAN PHYSICIAN SERVICES

 

STEPHEN G. SCHROY, ESQUIRE                  FOR VOHRA POST ACUTE CARE PHYSICIANS

O’BRIEN & RYAN, LLP                          OF THE NORTHEAST, PA.,

                                                          KYRAN O MITCHELL, M.D.

 

MARK P. MERLINI, JR., ESQUIRE       FOR SUBURBAN GERIATRICS, INC.,

MARKS, O’NEILL, O’BRIEN,                 ROBERT J. PEARLSTEIN, M.D.

  DOHERTY & KELLY, PC

 

OPINION, TYLWALK, P.J., JANUARY 24, 2022.

 

In this professional liability action, Plaintiff alleges that the death of Melitta G. Truran (“Decedent”) was caused by improper medical care she received from the various Defendants.  Defendants Suburban Geriatrics, Inc. (“Suburban”) and Robert J. Pearlstein, M.D. (“Pearlstein”) have filed Preliminary Objections contending that the Complaint contains overly broad allegations of agency and negligence in the claims set forth against them and seek to have those allegations stricken from the Complaint.  These Preliminary Objections are before us for disposition.

The Complaint alleges that Suburban and Pearlstein provided medical treatment to Decedent when she became a resident of Stoneridge Retirement Town Center in Myerstown, a facility operated by Defendant StoneRidge Retirement Living (“StoneRidge”), after she was discharged from Good Samaritan Hospital (“GSH”) on May 30, 2019.  It is alleged that Decedent had recently had surgery related to a wound on her lower left leg and was unable to ambulate due to ulcers on both of her legs.  The Complaint alleges that Suburban and Pearlstein provided medical services in the nature of wound care to Decedent, but that her condition worsened during the time she was at StoneRidge.  As a result, Plaintiff Melissa D. Hollinger, Executrix of Decedent’s Estate (“Plaintiff”), requested that Decedent be transferred to Hershey Medical Center (“HMC”) on July 13, 2019. It is alleged that Decedent underwent a below-the-knee amputation at HMC on July 17, 2019 and died on March 22, 2020.  On the Death Certificate, Decedent’s cause of death was indicated as sepsis with several underlying conditions.

The Complaint includes the following allegations in the claims against Suburban and Pearlstein:

  1. At all times relevant and material hereto, Defendant Suburban acted by and through its agents, servants, employees, doctors, physician assistants, nurses, office staff, representatives, successors, predecessors, subsidiaries, and/or parent companies, who were acting in the course and scope of their employment, duties, and/or agency.

 

  1. At all times relevant and material hereto, Defendant Pearlstein acted through his agents, servants, assistants, office staff, nurses, and/or employees.

 

  1. Defendants, Suburban and Pearlstein, individually and by and through their agents, servants, staff, nurses, doctors, physician assistants, and/or employees, failed to exercise the judgment of reasonable health care providers under the circumstances and were negligent as follows:

 

(f)  In failing to properly and/or adequately assess, evaluate, diagnose, care for, treat, and/or cure Decedent’s condition;

 

(g)  In failing to properly and/or adequately examine Decedent;

 

(k)  In failing to ensure that Decedent attained or maintained her highest level of physical, mental, and psychological functioning;

 

(q)  In failing to properly and consistently document Decedent’s medical treatment and conditions; and

 

(r)  In failing to hire, endorse, advertise, employ and/or train sufficiently qualified staff that could evaluate, treat, supervise, and care for individuals such as Decedent.

 

  1. Defendant Suburban, by and through its agents, servants, staff, doctors, nurses, physician assistants, and/or employees, including Defendant Pearlstein, failed to exercise the judgment of a reasonable health care provider and was negligent as set forth above.

 

  1. Defendant Pearlstein, by and through his agents, servants, staff, doctors, nurses, physician assistants, and/or employees, failed to exercise the judgment of a reasonable health care provider and was negligent as set forth above.

 

(Complaint, Paras. 38, 43, 68(f)(g)(k)(q)(r),103, 108).

 

Suburban and Pearlstein object to these allegations, arguing that they lack the specificity necessary to apprise them of what individuals are alleged to be their agents and what conduct is alleged to have been negligence on their part.  They claim that this lack of specificity has prevented them from preparing their defense to the Complaint.

Pa.R.C.P. No. 1019(a) provides that “[t]he material facts on which a cause of action or defense is based shall be stated in a concise and summary form.”  Pa.R.C.P. No. 1019(a).  A pleader is not relieved of the duty to plead material facts merely because the defendant purportedly has knowledge of the facts or because that information is easily available to him.  Gross v. United Engineers and Constructions Inc., 302 A.2d 370 (Pa. Super. 1973).

The purpose of the pleadings is to place the defendants on notice of the claims upon which they will have to defend. A complaint must give the defendants fair notice of the plaintiff’s claims and a summary of the material facts that support those claims.

[I]t is not enough to focus upon one portion of the complaint. Rather, in determining whether a particular paragraph in a complaint has been stated with the necessary specificity, such paragraph must be read in context with all other allegations in that complaint. Only then can the court determine whether the defendant has been put upon adequate notice of the claim against which he must defend.

 

Rachlin v. Edmison, 813 A.2d 862, 870 (Pa. Super. 2002) (internal citations omitted).

When determining whether the averments of a complaint are sufficient, a court must ensure that the challenged averments present no risk of a future unexpected amendment to the complaint based upon new facts after the statute of limitations has run.  Connor v. Allegheny General Hospital, 461 A.2d 600 (Pa. 1983).  A physician charged with negligence is entitled to be advised, through the complaint, of the specific acts or omissions that constitute the negligence and unskillfulness complained of in order to restrict the plaintiff’s proof at trial and to give the physician enough information to reasonably prepare a defense.  4 Standard Pennsylvania Practice 2d §23.55:  Assertion of particular acts constituting medical malpractice, citing Miller v. Perrige, 71 Pa. D. & C. 2d 476 (C.C.P. Northumberland Cnty. 1975).  Catch-all allegations of negligence do not apprise the defendant of his conduct that the plaintiffs allege as improper or negligent.  Boyd v. Somerset Hospital, 24 D. & C. 4th 564, 567 (C.C.P. Somerset Cnty. 1993).

“[W]hile it is unnecessary to plead all the various details of an alleged agency relationship, a complainant must allege, as a minimum, facts which: (1) identify the agent by name or appropriate description; and (2) set forth the agent’s authority, and how the tortious acts of the agent either fall within the scope of that authority, or if unauthorized, were ratified by the principal.”

 

Rachlin v. Edmison, 813 A.2d 862, 870 (Pa. Super. 2002) (internal citations omitted).

Pearlstein and Suburban complain that the Complaint does not properly identify the agents referred to in Paragraphs 38, 43, 68, 103 and 108 by name, appropriate description, or alleged authority and that they are therefore unable to identify the individuals (and the alleged conduct) for which Plaintiff seeks to hold them liable in this action.   Suburban and Pearlstein further complain that the allegations of negligence set forth in Subparagraphs (f),(g),(k),(q), and (r) of Paragraph 68 fail to define the exact nature of these claims as they could be read to include conduct unrelated to the treatment of Decedent’s wounds.  They argue that if these allegations are permitted to remain, there is the possibility of them being held accountable for unknown conduct of virtually any possible agent, servant or employee of themselves or other Defendants.

As to the allegations of agency, Plaintiff points out that the primary business addresses of both Suburban and Pearlstein are contained in the Complaint and that these Defendants have knowledge of those who work within their businesses.  Plaintiff further counters that the individuals referred to in Paragraphs 38, 43, 68, 103 and 108 and the claims of negligence set forth in Subparagraphs (f),(g),(k),(q), and (r) of Paragraph 68 are readily identified by the information set forth in the entire Complaint.

As to Suburban, we note that Pearlstein and Ouma are the only agents specifically identified by name.  No individual is specifically identified as an agent of Pearlstein.  Paragraphs 52 to 56 detail the condition of Decedent’s wounds at the time she entered StoneRidge, the progression of her wounds, and the care she received while in residency there.  The Complaint avers that Suburban and Pearlstein were involved with Decedent’s wound care during that time; however, it is indicated that Defendants Vohra and Mitchell[1] were also responsible for the monitoring and treatment of Decedent’s wounds while Decedent was in StoneRidge.  (Complaint, Para. 52)  The allegations of negligence against Suburban and Pearlstein are identical to those asserted against Vohra and Mitchell.  (Complaint, Paras. 67 and 68)  During her stay at Stoneridge, Decedent also received treatment which was not necessarily performed by employees of Suburban and/or Pearlstein and which was not necessarily related to the care of her wounds.  The Complaint makes only broad references and speaks in general terms as to which of these individuals Plaintiff considers to be agents of Suburban and Pearlstein and what treatment/care is alleged to have been deficient.

We agree with Suburban and Pearlstein that the allegations of agency in Paragraphs 38, 43, 68, 103, and 108 and the allegations of negligence in Paragraph 68(f)(g)(k)(q) and (r) are overly broad and should be stated with more specificity.  As previously noted, the Complaint alleges that Decedent was also under the care of StoneRidge, Vohra and Mitchell during the same time period when Suburban and Pearlstein were involved in the care and treatment of her wounds.  During her stay at StoneRidge, Decedent would have received care from agents/employees of all of these Defendants and not all of the care would necessarily be related to her wounds.  A similar scenario was present in Rex v. Wellspan, 8 Pa. D. & C. 5th 573, 2009 WL 3166114 (C.C.P. Adams Cnty. 2009) where the Court noted as follows:

As mentioned, the primary purpose of a pleading is to form a clear and distinct issue for the trial between the parties. Pleadings serve the purpose of giving notice to an opponent of the propositions to be confronted at trial so as to avoid any unfair surprise. Such purpose is forwarded by the current pleading as the general references include numerous scenarios of actions or inactions by numerous hospital personnel. Defendants are left to decipher and defend all potential causes of action no matter how obscure, and perhaps unknown, the underlying facts may be. The rules of procedure simply do not permit the plaintiff to delegate their duty of pleading a specific claim to opposing parties or the court.

 

Rex, 8 Pa. D. & C. 5th at 575-576 (internal citations omitted).

 

This is also the case here.  We believe the references to the alleged agents of Suburban and Pearlstein falls short of what is necessary to apprise them of the identity of the individuals alleged to be their agents.   We also agree that the allegations against Suburban and Pearlstein in 68(f)(g)(k)(q) and (r) do not limit the claims to the care provided to Decedent by these Defendants and fail to inform them of what exact condition they failed to properly document, diagnose and treat, what physical, mental and psychological conditions they had a duty to diagnose and treat, how they failed to perform that duty, and how the staff referred to was not properly trained or qualified.  Without clarification, this opens the possibility of Suburban and Pearlstein being held accountable for conduct of the staff or personnel of any of the other Defendants which were involved with Decedent’s care during her time at StoneRidge based on claims which do not involve the specific care provided by Suburban and Pearlstein.

For these reasons, we will sustain the Preliminary Objections and grant Plaintiff leave to amend her Complaint to state with more specificity the allegations of negligence in Paragraph 68(f)(g)(k)(q) and (r) and the identity of the individuals she alleges to be the agents of Suburban and Pearlstein.

 

[1] Defendants Vohra Post Acute Care Physicians of the Northeast, PA d/b/a Vohra Wound Physicians and Kyran Mitchell, M.D.

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